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Best mic for documentaries


Stephan
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Hello everybody,

 

i am not a sound professional and searching for help! I am a documentary filmmaker working for cinema and TV. In recent years I startet to shoot my documentary films alone. Mainly i use 1-7 lavs now for my protagonists (Sennheiser G4).
This works well in most situations. I know that this still means a certain compromise in sound quality.  
Now I would like to capture sound and voices more spontaneously without using lavs for all my protagonists.

What might  be the best microphone available to mount on my camera? 

At the moment I have a Sennheiser 416 mounted at the top.  The microphone is not bad but there might be better solutions.

Is it e.g. possible to mount a very good stereo mic on top to cover a broader area in front of the camera?

For me it is not possible to have a sound man. So i am researching for a compromise with the best quality.

Thanks for your ideas.

Best regards.

Stephan

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Placement is more impotent than the mic when it comes to capturing dialog. If you just need a cam mic to record nat-sound, I would choose a M/S stereo mic, which gives more flexibility in post than a mono or XY stereo. On top of  a camera is one of the worst possible places for a dialog mic. unless you are less than 18 inches  away from the talent.

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Reminds me of this cold war wishful thinking joke:

"I want a geostationary satellite" (always above the area of interest)

"on a low earth orbit" (to capture details with limited 'resolution' cams)

"right over Moscow" (or any other place, not somewhere near the equator)

 

Like Rick suggested, some sort of MS mic is a good choice for a documentary cam mic. But limited to: You have some sort of stereo that follows the camera view, but still keep some options to emphasize what is "on camera", though in the very most situations not sufficient enough to capture speech for tv/film/etc. I wouldn't go for the mkh418 though from my experiences on its figure of 8 and I really dislike the 416 in general. Back in the days, it may have been the best solution available. Unfortunately, such things makes mics and other sound stuff "legendary" and trusted without research of alternatives. Listen into e.g. a CMS-50 and similar competitors before you buy.

If you want to capture talking humans, dropping lav mics for practical reasons in favor of a cam mic is no option. Period. Unless you shoot in some sound- and low wind desert more or less monologues.

 

13 hours ago, Stephan said:

In recent years I started to shoot my documentary films alone. Mainly i use 1-7 lavs now for my protagonists (Sennheiser G4).
This works well in most situations. I know that this still means a certain compromise in sound quality.  

Would you emphasize your experiences on compromises?

 

13 hours ago, Stephan said:

Is it e.g. possible to mount a very good stereo mic on top to cover a broader area in front of the camera?

What is a broader area in front of camera? Pretty much any mono mic covers a broader area than an 18mm lens which is why we try to put mics close to relevant sound sources rather than on cameras (beyond ambiences or reference tracks).

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It sounds like you want what a qualified sound person can accomplish with a properly outfitted equipment package, and a well organized shoot so that mic placement can be predictably deployable. As an OMB, you’re wearing a lot of hats, and you’ll never be totally satisfied with your sound if you’re doing it yourself. Even if you spend thousands of dollars on a fancy mic, as long as it’s on your camera, it won’t be in the right position to get what you’re trying to accomplish. And honestly, handling all those lavs while operating a camera? I would ditch whatever client you’re working for if they expect you to manage all that AND operate a camera. You should at least have a second person with you who can occupy themselves with sound. If that’s asking too much for your client, I’d fire the client. My 2¢

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17 hours ago, Stephan said:

In recent years I startet to shoot my documentary films alone. Mainly i use 1-7 lavs now for my protagonists (Sennheiser G4).

7 lavs whilst also operating a camera? I suspect the compromised sound has more to do with that you do too much by yourself rather than what particular equipment you use.

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I do the audio post on a lot of docs shot by the directors themselves, alone.   I'm not going to tell you how to shoot your film, but I can tell you that working this way makes for considerably more work needing to be done in audio post to get to a soundtrack that will pass network tech eval, there are always many issues that cannot be properly fixed no matter what we do ("must have" moments), and the overall quality of the soundtrack is diminished.  The problem with the latter will not be with viewers who are very interested in the content of your film, the problem will be with everyone else, who will find themselves less likely to stick with watching a film that is hard to listen to.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You've gotten a lot of good advice already. I will add that I also make documentaries and I ocassionally have to shoot solo. When I do, I have a  Sanken CS-M1 mounted on camera. I've never figured out a great way to mount my A10 wireless to my camera, so I keep an old Sennheiser G2 for that purpose.

 

But that is absolutely as a last resort!

 

If it is at all possible, I have a DP shoot while I roll sound. I boom everything (same Sanken mic) and put wires on anyone I'm really following closely. But still, 99% of the time the best audio I get is from that boom mic, just out of frame above the subject of the shot.  I'm nowhere near the pro that others here are, but I've edited and mixed a lot of my own footage (and others') and I'd advise you to get a sound mixer on every shoot you possibly can. You will not regret it.

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